Southwest Annual Conference

Houston, TX | May 16-18, 2018

George R. Brown Convention Center

The Art of Observation & the Observation of Art


Astute observation is a right-brained skill and one that is highly desirable for a physician, since it’s not only essential for diagnosis but also for empathetic connection. Osler agreed. “The whole art of Medicine” he remarked "is in observation." In fact, he saw "no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation." Yet, this skill is not taught during medical school or residency, and in fact may even be hindered by a curriculum heavily skewed towards the sciences. The result is the missing of many important clues. As Holmes reminded Watson, “You see, but you do not observe.” Leonardo put it more bluntly: "There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see only when shown, and those who can’t see." Hence, observing artworks might offer a simple but effective way to rekindle both the right brain and the power of observation, and thus in turn improve bedside detection of physical findings. It may even help the reading of faces, a fundamental skill for a physician. Lastly, art observation fosters visual-spatial thinking -- a fundamental aspect of innovation and creativity. Building on this premise we’ll present a series of cases that might: 1) Enhance participants’ interest in the arts; 2) Suggest how this might actually be beneficial for the practice of medicine; 3) Present pathognomonic physical findings; and 4) Foster "visual literacy," i.e., the ability to find meaning in imagery, which in turn translates into the capacity to reason physiology and pathophysiology from visual clues -- a desirable skill for all physicians

Learning Objectives

Have a better understanding of "visual literacy"

Become more careful and astute observers

Identify at first glance some pathognomonic findings

Understand the importance of visual-spatial thinking

Understand the link between humanities and science


Salvatore Mangione, MD

Dr. Sal Mangione is a clinician-educator with a long interest in Physical Diagnosis, Medical History and community service. After obtaining his MD summa cum laude from the Catholic University of Rome, Dr. Mangione trained in Internal Medicine and Pul...

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